May 14 – Controversy

Today’s factismal: Vaccines were invented 220 years ago.

In 1796, Edward Jenner performed a desperate experiment. A smallpox epidemic was sweeping through England and people were dying by the score. But he had heard that people who worked with cattle were less likely to become ill. Jenner investigated and discovered that the people who had come down with cowpox were less likely to become ill with smallpox. So Jenner came up with a radical idea. He would deliberately infect a child with cowpox and then, after the child had recovered, infect him with smallpox to test the effect of the first infection. The child’s parent, frightened by the number of deaths, agreed. The experiment was a success; the child lived and vaccines (named after the animal that provided the serum) became a way of saving lives.

The smallpox virus (Image courtesy CDC)

The smallpox virus, former public enemy number one
(Image courtesy CDC)

How many lives have vaccines saved? Consider this: Between 1900 and 1977, more than 400,000,000 people died from smallpox. Since then? Nobody has died from the disease thanks to an eradication effort featuring the smallpox vaccine.  And consider this: In the past sixteen years alone, the measles vaccine has saved 17,100,000 lives. And this: In just nine years, the flu vaccine has saved 40,000 lives in the US alone.

A ward full of polio patients (Image courtesy US NIH)

A ward full of polio patients
(Image courtesy US NIH)

So why wouldn’t anyone want to get vaccinated? There are a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to fear. Vaccines tend to have a lot of ingredients that sound scary until you know what they do. And false claims about some of those ingredients (mostly spread by a doctor who experimented on children without their parent’s consent) led many to think that vaccines might harm their children instead of keeping them safe. The truth is that there have been fewer than 1,000 deaths caused by vaccines in the past two decades even though the number vaccines used has risen steeply.

A comparison of the deaths caused by measles and those caused by vaccines; the vaccine deaths were exaggerated for clarity. Each face represents 1,000 deaths.

A comparison of the deaths caused by measles and those caused by vaccines; the vaccine deaths were exaggerated for clarity. Each face represents 1,000 deaths.

Think about that for a moment. There are now 36 recommended vaccines, up from 7 in 1950.  That means that there are now 36 different things that your child is protected against by vaccines. That means that instead of saving just 3,000,000 lives each year vaccines are now saving more than 15,000,000! And the CDC and pharmaceutical companies are constantly working to make vaccines even safer and more effective.

A child joins the "Rublla Fighter" campaign after being vaccinated (Image courtesy CDC)

A child joins the “Rublla Fighter” campaign after being vaccinated
(Image courtesy CDC)

So on the 220th anniversary of vaccines, take care of yourself and your family by making sure that everyone’s vaccinations are up to date. Then take care of others by working with Global Vaccines. They are using their profits from vaccines in countries like the USA to pay for vaccinations in poor countries:
http://www.globalvaccines.org/

If you’d like to help drive a disease into extinction, then join the Global Polio Eradication Initiative:
http://www.polioeradication.org/

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